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Metanoia

Metanoia

by Marco M. Pardi

Attempts at reform, when they fail, strengthen despotism, as he that struggles tightens those cords he does not succeed in breaking.” C. C. Colton. Many Things in Few Words; Addressed to those who think. 1823.

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A reader, hopeful the Untied States will somehow come through the Trump regime and return to a functional democracy, suggested I write about how Italy survived Fascism. I very much appreciate suggestions and I will try herein.

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I suppose it is coincidence that I sit here writing this in the early Spring. For many people this is a period of Nature’s rebirth. But rebirth is a misleading concept since it implies that something rose from the dead. Sorry, but the dead don’t rise, at least not in physical form despite the enthusiasm for Easter. Metanoia is an elegant synonym for conversion, not rebirth. It is metamorphosis on a spiritual level.

Years ago I knew a young woman in Munich named Renate – “reborn”. I always wanted to ask her what she remembered about her previous life, but never did. But there were certainly those around her who remembered a previous life they seemed to want the world to forget. Some of the much older ones had been ardent members of the Nazi Party, and I suspected still would be had the Party itself survived. Some showed me photographs of themselves in their officer’s uniforms, complete with swastika armband. It showed me that, like those trees I had been certain were dead in Winter, there were threads of life in depths to which I was not normally privy.

Currently HBO is running a series titled, The Plot Against America. I do not know the average age of my readers or their typical background. But even if the reader has no personal experience with the Untied States of the late 1930’s and early to mid 1940’s the horrendous treatment of Jews and other minorities must rivet attention, and concern. The story line is that Charles Lindberg won the Republican presidential nomination to run against F.D.R. Lindberg, along with Henry Ford and many other highly placed figures including Prescott Bush, patriarch of the Bush political dynasty, was a leading light in the American Fascist movement so active in combating the Labor movement and the rise of the American Communist Party. The American Fascist movement was instrumental in stoking the virulent Red Scare that began in the ’30’s and lasted into the ’60’s.

As the Plot Against America series is currently playing I cannot say how closely it matches the portrayal of those years in the astounding academic study, Under the Axe of Fascism by Gaetano Salvemini (which I have). Nonetheless, it has sparked renewed – and largely new interest in how Fascism got started and how, officially at least, it was defeated in Italy. Why do I say “officially”? Because you can ban an activity but you can’t ban a held belief or feeling.

So how did it get started? To answer that we need to return to the period at the end of the First World War. Unified in 1870 by Garibaldi, Italy was officially a parliamentary monarchy until 1946. But growing dissatisfaction with the economic recovery after WWI coupled with the attraction of the Soviet Union empowered a young and aggressive Prime Minister Benito Mussolini to gather more power, especially with the help of the Roman Catholic Church. Both the Church and Mussolini’s Blackshirts were violently opposed to the growing labor movement, and especially the Soviet concept of communism. The monarch, King Victor Emmanuel III, stepped back from the conflict and effectively abdicated power to Mussolini. Soon after, Mussolini banned all political parties except his Fascist Party.

But what exactly was Fascism? In his autobiography (which I also have) Mussolini summed it up succinctly: Fascism is corporatism. This should sound so familiar to Americans as to obviate the need for explanation. Americans know it as the Military-Industrial Complex. It is the Dark Money from corporations which supports the party that gives them free rein to do as they please, this being accomplished through legislation passed by the wholly owned subsidiary known as the U.S. Congress. As the corporations plunder their way to the dizzy heights of the Stock Exchange they make sure to share the spoils with the politicians who enable them, thus perpetuating the power of those politicians. The military ensures access to the resources and the cheap labor needed by the corporations.

In a short time one’s chances for employment in Fascist Italy were based more on Party membership and connections than on qualifications. Obviously, this presented ethical problems to those who were already well educated in their fields and/or who came from families long established in those fields. People were careful to obtain Party membership and pay “lip service” as needed while keeping their own counsel. Put simply, what looked to the outside world like a monolithic Fascist State was in fact a hidden mosaic of sub rosa members of the previously existing Parties augmented by a growing resistance to the regime.

Yet, there were fractures. The country was divided by a class structure heavily weighted by family provenance more than mere money. My family, including those added by marriage, traced far back in higher academia, the arts, and the highest ranks of the military. Some of those roots developed into Fascist trees, others did not. The “middle class” of Italy was largely quiet, waiting to see the effects on business, while the lower class simply adjusted to a different yoke.

Beneath the veneer the mosaic of famous Italian disagreements waited for when it was safe to resurface. There may have been only one political Party, but there was a universe of different feelings and opinions. These manifested occasionally as the war dragged on. Many Italian troops saw the battles as just not their fight.

And then it came. The King had Mussolini arrested and imprisoned. The Germans turned on the Italians and freed Mussolini. The Italians captured him again and killed him; this was a blunder by those who captured him. Italy did NOT “switch sides”, as the simplistic American history books like to say. Italy overthrew a dictator and reformed itself. Various Italian factions, each looking to the long game, joined with the Allies to drive the Germans out of Italy. The mosaic of different values and nascent political parties, once thought dead, arose. The parliamentary system returned, this time without the monarchy. It had experienced metanoia.

Of course, the revolving door governments that followed were soon the butt of jokes especially in the Untied States. But many saw this as a laboratory experiment in democracy. When elected officials fail to perform to expectations they are voted out.

The Untied States have developed what amounts to a new quasi-class: Politicians. Making matters worse, this class has hardened into two sides. And many would say they are two sides of the same coin. Or Good Cop – Bad Cop; but both cops. Supposedly Trump was the anti-politician, sent by the people to overturn the tables in the temple and drive out the money changers. Unfortunately, too many people fail to understand that not all politicians hold public office. Many of the most radical ones are “special advisers” and other behind the scenes specialists. Trump, like several other famous “leaders” in history, is simply a rabble-rousing front man for these people.

The Untied States need a true metanoia, a metamorphosis away from a class of professional place holders and a return of power into the hands of the people. Violence is simply out of the question, though many domestic groups openly favor it. But this raises the question: Is the American public ready and willing to accept not just the power but also the responsibility to administer itself?

Throughout American history there have been – and are – several “issue Parties”, some larger and some smaller. But they routinely garner little general interest and, when they do seem to rise to the national stage only manage to drain votes away from some truly qualified candidates; their notable contribution is as a “spoiler”.

I have long and often advocated for an American Parliamentary system. There are several very successful models in this world. But I suspect that Americans are too entombed in “how it has always been” to take the courageous step of metanoia.

Al Ghurba

Al Ghurba

…the land of strangers…

by Marco M. Pardi

There is only one sort of genuine socialism, the democratic sort, by which I mean the organization of society for the benefit of the whole people.” George Bernard Shaw

All comments will receive a response.

While clouds of evil coronavirus obscure the thoughts in the minds of a growing number of Americans another cloud is gathering in the background. This cloud, arguably more deadly than covid 19, is both visible and audible; the problem is in its sinister ability to appear harmless, even benevolent. It is the cloud of disinformation, misdirection, and outright lies developing in the infected lungs and dissolving psyches of what is still mistakenly called the Republican Party as it prepares to solidify its hold on power in the Fall and bury the last vestiges of a democratic society.

Let’s be clear from the start: There is no international law governing what a state can call itself. Thus, we have The Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Do we really think these places are democratic? Of course not. I have frequently pointed to those State level societies which call themselves Communist and explained how true communism has never existed at higher than the Band level (up to about 80 members) of society. Yet, major population blocs have labeled themselves communist and some still do even as it is evident they are simply totalitarian states.

We in the Untied States are now moving into another era of misunderstanding and mislabeling: we are approaching another round of Presidential elections. One side of the traditionally two sided contest is already set; no one dares to challenge the supremacy, indeed the sanctity of the aging wannabe Mussolini doppleganger currently in the Casa Blanca. On the other side the contest seems to have come down to two aging possibilities: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Biden seems to be MOTS, More Of The Same while Sanders labels himself a democratic socialist. Probably intended to soften the term socialism, democratic socialist, like democratic republican (the U.S. calls itself a democratic republic), is a bit of an oxymoron. Each of them implies citizen participation in decision making but that participation can go only so far. The democratic socialist elects the government which makes the overarching, large decisions and the democratic republican elects the representatives who do the same. They are mirror images of each other with the exception of how intrusively they regulate and control such factors as private ownership.

But even such societal idols as the right of private ownership are hazed over. In the U.S. no one disputes your right to own a car; but there is a multitude of regulations governing how you can use that car. And this split between the right to own and the right to use symbolizes a fundamental reason why socialism, by whatever label, cannot succeed in a society like the Untied States. That reason, the very essence of what makes the U.S. what it is, is never stated in terms of why socialism would fail. That reason is: Diversity.

A fundamental defining element of a culture is language. According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are at least 350 languages spoken in the U.S. Many of these speakers do not yet speak English. Some never will.

Some sources say there are as many cultures in the U.S. as there are in the world. I have some experience with these as, during my career with CDC my degrees in Anthropology and my facility with languages brought me continuous domestic and international assignments for which linguistic and cultural skills were mandatory. In situations wherein I had neither the language nor a suitable lingua franca upon which to rely I employed basic anthropological tactics to communicate. But even then it was imperative that I knew to gear those tactics to what was culturally acceptable and appropriate.

My point here is that, far more fundamental than the “Conservative”, far-right fear mongering over what socialism would mean to your (read: their) bank account, socialism can work only in societies characterized by a strong sense of solidarity. Rudely put, people care about others who look and sound like themselves. People are willing to forego, even contribute a certain amount of personal capital for others they presume to share their values, life experiences, ethics, and dreams. But when that term – other – takes the form of Other the situation changes dramatically.

Consider this small example. You are driving along an Interstate highway. You have not seen a State Patrolman in hours, if at all. Over a rise in the land you see a disabled car on the road shoulder, a woman and two young children standing by it. They are Black. Further along you see another disabled car on the shoulder, and a woman and two small children standing beside it. They are White. Which group will be the first to experience a motorist stopping to be of help, or even a cellphone being lifted to report the problem? Now replay that scenario and put the woman in a hijab.

The U.S. has several federal and state laws regulating behavior which could be construed as discriminatory. We can regulate actions. We cannot regulate feelings. When idealistic people who dream and expound on the marvels of socialism cite examples such as the Scandinavian countries they fail to recognize, much less speak of one central characteristic: although they have small minority populations within them, they are overwhelmingly homogenous.

Unfortunately, people like Bernie Sanders who wave the flag of socialism, albeit sweetened with “democratic”, hand the most powerful tool possible to their neo-fascist opponents: a direct and personal threat to how people feel. Time and again we have seen how elections are won on feelings, not on considered intellectual choices. The 2016 presidential election was not won by the neo-fascists – aka Republican Party. It was won by the expert manipulation of feelings conducted by very highly trained Russian operatives, masters of reaching into the depths of the human psyche no regulations can touch. They know how to easily coax the unsophisticated American voter into conflating socialism with communism, socialism with loss of personal capital, and loss of personal freedom. As the saying goes, They know where, when, and how to push all the right buttons. And the domestic neo-fascists have studied and learned these lessons well.

We greet each other, we behave toward each other in the civilly prescribed manners, but we live in al ghurba – the land of strangers. And the voting booths will soon prove it.

Rights

Rights

by Marco M. Pardi

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” St. Francis of Assisi

For the third time in a training session Tonio refused the Training Master’s directive that he put a spiked choke chain on his attack dog. “It’s just not necessary, and it breaks the trust between dog and handler that could have fatal results later.”

Hours later Tonio overheard the Training Master in a heated argument with the Unit NCOIC. The TM was arguing for Court-Martial charges; the NCOIC, tolerant to this point of the TM’s brutal training methods, refused and offered an alternative: a public competition in which 21 dogs and handlers would compete. The teams would have 21 days to prepare and Tonio would be allowed to employ his own methods of training and working with his dog.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

In this era of thoroughly outrageous health care costs a common saying has emerged: Health care is a human right. Admittedly, that’s a catchy saying and fits nicely on a bumper sticker. But I pay close attention to words, and especially to the concepts they are used to transmit. In this case the predicate seems to be that humans, simply by being human, have certain universal and undeniable rights. Who decided that? Non-humans? Oh, of course, we awarded ourselves that, along with preeminence over everything else in existence.

The pronouncement of health care as a human right may flow, though I doubt it, from the following: “Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS. United Nations Article 25.1 10 December 1948.

I said above that I doubt this is the predicate of health care is a human right simply because I think most people are only dimly aware of the United Nations, much less what the U.N. has to say. Nonetheless, no matter who states it, the challenge remains: On what basis do humans claim rights for themselves?

Moments before Tonio took the oath swearing him into the military he was informed that in so doing he would surrender his rights under the U.S. Constitution and would henceforth come under the UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Furthermore, he was made aware that what rights he would have did not come free. As Samuel Coleridge said, “There are no rights without corresponding duties”. But Tonio, being a quietly independent soul, may have been listening in his mind to Robert Frost, who said, “I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way”. (When unwanted telephone calls come to me I just tell the caller to go and engage in a certain auto-erotic behavior.) My phone, my right.

Americans, by acquiescing to the daily destruction of their rights as citizens, seem to be heeding Frost in a perverse way. To the extent they have come to believe the way of the regime now in power is in fact their own way, they are marching in lockstep into the hell of Fascism. Please look back at that Universal Declaration of Human Rights above and ask yourself how the billions of dollars poured into the Pentagon, into the border monument to Trump, into the tax breaks to the planet killing fossil fuel industry, the move to abolish the Consumer Protection Agency and limit the right to sue manufacturers for damages, the reduction or elimination of social support such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the usurpation of power from the Legislative and the judicial branches of government to the Executive branch, the closure of dozens of rural hospitals in States that refuse to accept MedicAid expansion, and the de-funding of scientific programs not helpful to or in contradiction of the military-industrial complex honor and serve the “human rights” so confidently listed.

For many years I have been a strong supporter of several organizations that protect, rescue, rehabilitate, and/or provide homes for non-human animals. One of these, the Nonhuman Rights Project, is winning expensive court cases in favor of recognizing the inherent sentience, and therefore rights, of a variety of nonhuman animals. How strange it must be to courts and observers that serious, competent attorneys plead cases on behalf of captive elephants, chimpanzees, and other nonhuman animals kept in miserable confinement for the passing entertainment of a few shallow humans. No one is asking that these nonhumans be enfranchised with voting privileges; we ask only that they be freed from their tortuous captivity and allowed to live out their lives in certified sanctuaries. (For the record, I also support the sanctuaries). I also support organizations with a broader scope, such as Earthrights International. What? Rocks have rights? The formative philosophy is that Earth is a cohesive whole, not an amalgam of separate parts. As such, its presence gives it validity. And, its validity gives it rights.

I often hear the phrase, “God given rights”. Whose God? And what of those people who do not believe in a God for which there is no evidence? Do the believers have the right to smite the unbelievers? (I like that word smite. It’s so kinetic. A physicist would call it elegant.)

But again, no matter where we look, we have no factual basis for the concept of Rights as it is applied solely to humans. The claim that humans were created by a God is interesting, but must take into account that, according to the belief, so was everything else. Ah, but we are told that this God “breathed” a spark of divinity into humans, but not into anything else. Really? Who says so?

Since we have elevated ourselves above every other form of existence we are asked to reach down to the nonhuman animals and to exercise compassion toward them. Noblesse oblige. How very wonderful of us. But Mankind has long demonstrated that compassion, even decency, takes a very distant back seat to money and pleasure.

Some people flippantly state that Might Makes Right. In very specific and short-term settings there may be some truth to that. However, those people would be wise to remember the saying, Those who live by the sword die by the sword. The new corona-virus now rapidly spreading over all but one of the seven continents may prove mightier than Man’s ability to defeat it. Does its Might give it the Right?

SPAM

SPAM

by Marco M. Pardi

Propaganda, n. Their lies.

Public Information, n. Our lies.”

Edward S. Herman

Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.” Eric Hoffer

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

His attack dog sitting close by, Tonio used his folding opener to open a can of C ration ‘meat’. As usual, the upper part of the can seemed to be pure grease. ‘You want some?’ he asked his K-9 partner. Curled back lips and bright teeth appeared. ‘I’ll take that as a No.’ On assignment deep into scrub country, he also had rations for his K-9. But he had also seen enough snakes to last him for the duration. He didn’t mind snake meat at all, almost no fat and very chewy. The problem would be smoke from the cooking fire. He had decided that if it came to it, he could slip a C ration can into a sock and use it to smack an opponent. Or, he could offer it to him and subdue him while he lay on the ground wretching. Tonio did not know that, as he considered this, thousands of miles away Americans were sitting down for a dinner of a product very similar.”

The American presidential election season is rapidly heating up. In fact, as I typed this I took a robo-call from the Republican syndicate during which Donald Trump himself shouted at me about how much he cared for me and wanted my vote. Well, it was his voice, anyway. I also get what has come to be called “spam”. Mass emails.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t understand the utility of spam. The titles of most of them automatically relegate them to the spam folder on my email service and on this site. “Dearly beloved in Christ…” Anyone who knows me knows that won’t get opened. “Increase penis size by 4 inches!” Is that all you got? “Farm animals waiting to meet you”. If I could I would buy those farm animals and provide a long and happy life in a sanctuary. But that’s another story.

This site you are currently looking at receives over 300 spam emails daily. Most of these originate on a Russian server. Many are in Cyrillic and, though my Russian is dated the contents are logical. Others are in English but are so illogical it’s as if someone flipped through medical journals randomly extracting sentences and phrases and cobbling them together. In both cases the lengthy entries are sprinkled with links to various products. I’m betting a click on one of those links would result in a ransomware attack, the download of a keystroke logger, and/or the download of a bot which would convert my computer into a silent “slave” to be used in a Denial of Service attack on some U.S. government agency or major industry. That is done continually.

I find it hard to imagine how someone could actually open an obvious SPAM email, or click on a link, or download an attachment “just for you”, or send money to a Nigerian Prince. In fact, part of me snorts that they get what they deserve. But for me the downside of the daily spam load is that, when I first started this site some people tried to comment and their comments went to SPAM. Fortunately, the load was light and I routinely scanned that folder before deleting the contents. Now, it is simply impossible to scan 300+ emails to see if there is a genuine comment in there; I have to hit delete and sit back while the computer throws up.

Are the Russians interested in my site? My software enables me to see in which countries the site is read and how many times. It does not identify a specific reader. I’ve often seen hits in Russia. So, could it be that Putin’s minions have discovered a site hostile to the fascist American regime they spent so much money and time bringing to power? Dear Russians: пошел ты (Poshel ty).

But the Russians and their fake news, smears, and questionable links are not the only threat to our upcoming election. The “Useful Idiot” they installed in our White House has also asked China and Ukraine to interfere in the democratic process. And, as I was writing this, news broke that The Great Pumpkin had fired his Acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph McGuire, and replaced him with another Acting Director, Richard Grenell. Since 9/11 every DNI has been a career Intelligence Officer and/or Military Officer with extensive Intelligence experience and expertise. Mr. Grenell has neither the Intelligence background or the military background, but he does have a long background as a Republican and lately an acolyte in the Cult of The Great Pumpkin. He also was an undisclosed consultant to Vladimir Plahotmiuc, a Moldovan oligarch who is a fugitive and is barred from entering the United States. Grenell did not register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Principal Deputy DNI Andrew Hallman is also leaving his position.

Why the sudden changes? The Congressional Intelligence Committees are required to attend and receive Intelligence briefings which present the collated findings of all the Intelligence Agencies and are provided to the Committees by officials in the Office of the DNI. The most recent such briefing provided a consensus finding that the Russians are currently involved again in meddling in the upcoming Presidential elections in order to support their favorite, Donald J. Trump, aka, Useful Idiot, The Great Pumpkin, etc. Many media pundits say Trump cannot tolerate the implication that his election is less than valid, as if it were simply an ego thing. I, on the other hand, think he is upset that his greatest assets and handlers have been exposed before congress and now the American people. In any case, more resignations in the Intelligence Community and State Department are coming. The Great Pumpkin has ordered his political appointees to ferret out any and all career employees who are “disloyal” to him.

The House Democrats have introduced and passed several Bills which would help safeguard our next elections. But the Senate leader, “Moscow Mitch” McConnell, who proudly calls himself The Grim Reaper when it comes to considering anything from Democrats, has blocked every single one. So, we can expect to see Russian, Chinese, and Iranian disinformation planted throughout social media as “news” stories and throughout mass emails we should consider SPAM. This has proven to be more than a simple nuisance, such as me having to wait while my computer scrubs the crap off this site. It has already resulted in violent armed assault. Remember the story that Hillary Clinton was running a child sexual exploitation ring in the basement of a pizza shop? There was no basement in that shop, much less an exploitation ring, but that didn’t stop an irate social media fool from charging into the shop with an AR-15.

In the coming weeks and months we will be subjected to an avalanche of fake news, spam, and misdirection. Of course, we have experienced this for years, especially with the advent of FOX NEWS, an outlet of the Ministry of Truth which should go ahead and admit its true name is Правда (Pravda, or Truth). As I’ve stated several times before, I have grave doubts about the ability of the average American to sort fact from fiction. I remember a survey done in the early 1970’s in which randomly selected Americans were asked to read and comment upon the Bill of Rights. A majority said, some quite forcefully, it was a communist manifesto. I very much doubt there has been much improvement since.

Do you believe the Great Pumpkin will rise out of the pumpkin patch (Washington, D.C.) and fly through the air bringing bringing peace, prosperity, affordable medical care, clean and cheap energy, safe water to drink and clean air to breathe, better schools and affordable higher education, and stronger and more durable safeguards for the less well off? If so you are welcome to join Linus in his yearly Fall vigil. In all your Halloweens, the trick is on you.

Others of us will be busy. Carl Sandburg once said, “Rest is not a word for free peoples – Rest is a monarchial word.”

Some of you who have made it this far may have concluded this column is spam. I will never dispute your right to be mistaken; I will dispute the basis for your mistakes.

Personal Winter

Personal Winter

by Marco M. Pardi

An inability to stay quiet…is one of the most conspicuous failures of Mankind.” Walter Bagehot. Physics and Politics. 1869

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. Those who experience difficulty posting a comment are asked to send it to me by email.

As Tonio walked into the dark forest in knee deep snow, his parachute buried, his M2 carbine with folding metal stock slung outside his insulated jumpsuit, four extra 30 round “banana” magazines pouched in his inner vest and a Beretta with two extra magazines in a tilted cross-draw on his waist, he heard it. Utter silence. He chuckled to himself; ‘ How does one hear utter silence? Or does one hear that it is utterly silent?’ He despised the .30 caliber M2. More than a pistol, but less than a rifle, it had a selector switch for semi or full automatic fire. From experience he knew unless one’s first shots included a kill shot one practically had to walk up to one’s target and ask him to lie down and die. He thought about what people said about Winter. That things died. But he knew that wasn’t true, as he pictured the buds of Spring emerging and noisy life bursting forth everywhere. Life was merely waiting, planning its next moves. Just as he was as he caught the first whiffs of chimney smoke from the chalet. Tonio was aware of his surroundings.

Winter is here. And perhaps Tonio was wrong. Some things do die in winter. Some plants and animals die. Some trees we assumed would always be there die. And in our personal winters ideas die, assumptions that life would go on as we have known it die.

Okay, here’s the point where some readers groan that I’m going off on another political rant. Yes. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Politics: The social contract composed of agreed rules and procedures for protecting the defined rights of members, the duties of members, and their relationship to non-members. While some readers in other countries may be inclined to pass on this entry as irrelevant to them, I hasten to differ. How a society (let’s call it a country) decides its rights is not merely an internal function. The framers (presumably members of the society) of the original social contract, “The Constitution”, of the United States designed a government consisting of three co-equal branches. They did so specifically in reaction to and in rejection of the monarchies which had long ruled the societies from which they came. The Bill of Rights, augmented by later Amendments to the Constitution, spelled out the rights of citizens, or fully vested members of the society. But although “freedom” was a fundamental concept and catchword inherent throughout these documents, it was poorly defined and not well regulated. Thus, individual States define and limit freedom differently, sometimes contravening federal law such as now regarding the possession and use of marijuana.

What I am sensing now is the deepening silence, the falling of Winter, in the presence of what might be the most fundamental betrayal of founding principles the world has yet seen: The refusal on the part of the “Republican” dominated Senate to hear witnesses and/or to examine evidentiary documents during what developed as the blatantly sham Senate impeachment “trial” of a president, who is from the Republican Party. Our Arabic speaking readers may recognize it as, al-nakba, the catastrophe.

At first this Party claimed the acts, bribery of a foreign government to interfere in an upcoming election, and obstruction of the House of Congress by ordering all Executive Branch employees to ignore legal testimony requests from the House investigators and by withholding all documents across government did not happen. Then we were told they did happen but were not impeachable offenses. And, we the public have been told to “get over it”. Finally, the White House has claimed that a relevant forthcoming book by the former National Security Advisor, John Bolton contained classified material and could therefore not be published.

The general public, as indicated by polls, seemed well aware of the actions of this regime and had registered a consistent 70% in favor of hearing from all potential witnesses and seeing all relevant documents. The Republican dominated Senate shut that down. But more interesting than the Senate’s move, which was expected, is the current absence of outcry that the elected Senators (and the Republican members of the House) betrayed their constituents and their oath. This is a “Representative Democracy”, which means the general population elects individuals to represent their views and values in the House of Representatives and in the Senate of the United States. A 70% demand as reflected in the polls means people of all political views, including Republican, wanted to hear witnesses and see documents. The Republican senators said No. Furthermore, each and every senator took a solemn oath to serve impartially in the impeachment hearings and render a decision on the basis of the arguments introduced therein. However, several Republican senators came out beforehand on national broadcasts saying they had no intention of being impartial and had made up their minds before hearing the opening words. Thus, they perjured themselves in taking the oath.

All right. Enough said about the mechanics of the U.S. political system.

The Republican Party has been trying to shut down radio and television programs on National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) practically since their inception. In their minds, programs such as Sesame Street, which teaches children essential skills along with love and tolerance, are subversive, socialist, probably even communist. The topical discussions on other programs, airing views from all sides, risk enabling thought to break out among the population. And if the population is honestly informed, and thinks about what they are learning, what happens to a regime which is setting itself up as the Ministry of Truth, the antidote to “fake news”, the people’s champion against the free press – “the enemy of the people”?

But why is this descent into Fascism of importance to readers in other countries? Several reasons. Anyone who has been awake for the past few years is aware of Climate Change and the fact that over 97% of the world’s scientists are alarmed by it and Man’s role in it. To those who tout the remaining 3% of scientists as some kind of counter-proof I would suggest a review of the number of doctors and scientists who accepted fees to throw doubt on the effects of tobacco. The current U.S. administration is now acting on a long standing Republican agenda about the environment. (I related in an earlier piece how I stood next to a major Republican Senatorial official and listened to him crow about Trump’s election: “Now we can do whatever we want!”) Years later, Trump himself has claimed he can “do whatever (he) wants” and is overturning the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, is gutting the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, the USDA food inspectors, the FDA drug approvals process, and the Endangered Species Act. When I spent five years combating the cholera epidemic in Latin America I was reminded that water knows no national boundaries. The same holds true for air. What the United States does to the water and the air does not stop at its borders. Nor do ideas. With the United States leading the Cult of Climate Deniers, how many countries will be willing to adopt the admittedly hard measures needed to mitigate the accelerating climate crisis?

With the election of Trump the United States pulled out of the Nuclear Agreement with Iran and several other nuclear armed countries, an agreement which all parties agreed was working. How long before other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, decide development of nuclear weapons is in their best interest as well? The Obama administration imposed serious sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and its incursions into Eastern Ukraine. The Trump administration is softening and/or slow-walking those sanctions, albeit while delivering token lethal aid to Ukraine. (Such aid is never gratuitous; American taxpayer money is handed out on condition it be returned through the purchase of materials from select American companies, enriching the few while taking from the many. My years with USAID clarified that for me.) In order to support its narrowly based economy, sinking due to reduced oil and gas values, Russia covets the energy rich regions of Eastern Ukraine and the monopoly it would gain on the European energy market. Are the long standing Trump family efforts toward building hotels in Moscow an influence in our government’s response to Russian aggression?

The United States looks the other way while China provides North Korea with hard currency – devoted to its nuclear program, through the purchase of dirty coal from North Korea; coal mined by hundreds of thousands of political prisoners literally worked to death in the mines. Trump boasts that he and Kim are “in love”. The rainforests of Brazil and Indonesia, the “lungs of the planet” are disappearing, along with the indigenous people who try to protect them, in order to feed the gluttonous maw of the American agricultural and meat industry. What other countries will refuse the short term monetary gains achieved thereby?

Ideas live on. An impeached American president has joined with an indicted Israeli head of state to tout a “peace plan”. Objective analysis indicates this plan would effectively be the imposition of apartheid on the Palestinians still living in what is now Israel, placing them on tiny strips of unproductive land under the complete control of the Israeli military. Sound familiar? It’s a rerun of the American Reservation system imposed on the Native Americans who were in America thousands of years before the European invaders. Seeing this example placed before the world with smiles and handshakes, what countries will resist the opportunities to treat their minorities and their refugees in similar fashion?

Already I’ve heard people say this winter will pass as they always do, things will return to normal once this aberration has passed. Life will resume and go on. But the regime dominated Senate, while admitting that Trump’s attempt to extort a nation in desperate need of military assistance was wrong, is about to acquit him of this crime against the Constitution and acquit him of obstructing Congress. In doing so they are shifting unconstitutional power to the Executive Branch and completely dismantling the founding principle of three co-equal Branches; they are establishing a dictatorship. Is this the stellar example of democracy to which aspiring democracies around the world should look?

The iconic Tree of Liberty is not hidden in a silent forest. It lives within each of us who understands that liberty carries with it responsibility, the responsibility to relentlessly search for the answers which are right for the nation and the courage to bring those answers into bloom. Its branches and its leaves are those ideas which arise and develop as we search.

Winter is here. But when it passes, will we recognize the Tree? Are we aware of our surroundings, or are we just resolved to accept what greets us as we awaken?

Panpsychism

Panpsychism

by Marco M. Pardi

Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.” William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. 1902

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply.

CAVEAT: If you are a convinced and confirmed believer in Materialist Scientism and are unwilling to consider the matrix of Science and Philosophy you might find your time better spent elsewhere. However, I encourage everyone to provide their comments. Those who wish to explore a broader context before or while reading this piece are referred to my earlier piece, The Case for Animatism. This may be found by clicking on the Uncategorized link and paging down to the earlier entries.

This post is being written in response to the following article:


Does Consciousness Pervade the Universe? – Scientific American

Most readers of this column know that my early childhood years were spent as a POR – Prisoner Of Religion. Born into a strict Roman Catholic family, I knew nothing else. But not knowing a system of thought by name did not mean not having a system of thought, and my system of thought began as I took the words of the Catholic catechism seriously and began to feel there were internal problems.

Before we get to those problems lets reconsider a couple of other terms: Science, Philosophy, and Panpsychism. The term science is relatively new. Derived from the Latin scientia, meaning knowledge, it first appeared in very limited circles (according to some) in the 17th century and remained quite obscure up into the 20th century. Throughout history the people we now call scientists were known as philosophers, not scientists. Even today, American universities still award the Ph.D. – Doctorate of Philosophy, in even the “hard” sciences such as physics. During the same period the field of Philosophy itself fell into a lesser repute as the drive toward Materialism eclipsed the value of thought.

We could say this was an expected development in the quickly developing separation of formal religion, a belief system, and the “facts on the ground” emphasis of emerging science.

Philosophy, on the other hand, derived from the Greek philosophos – lovers of wisdom. Mainly applied to questions of the nature of knowledge, it is first recognized in the PreSocratics of Greece in the 600s B.C.E. Although investigations into how one knows what one knows, even quantitatively, would seem fundamental to all science, philosophy has largely yielded the study of materially measurable things to the emerging sciences which weigh their value by external results.

Panpsychism is also a relatively new term, perhaps crafted to deflect the wrath of the Fundamentalists among us. The concept to which it applies goes far back in history under the name pantheism, the claim that God is everywhere, in everything. The dominant forms of monotheism (one God) reject pantheism. The central grounds for such rejection appear to be the desire of the monotheists to fashion a God which has a personal identity including gender, a set of personal preferences and a will to bring them into being, and a locality to which believers can aspire after death. Gaining the acceptance of such a God then enables the power brokers of monotheistic systems to proclaim they, and they alone, know and can interpret the will of this God. – meaning power over the people at large.

It is credibly argued that even systems portrayed as polytheistic, such as the Hindu tradition, are truly monotheistic in that the various lesser gods are simply incarnations or manifestations of the ultimate and one god Atman. But Atman is nowhere near as defined and constricted as the God of monotheism; “Atman” can be considered a means of expressing the oneness of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. Any attempt to define and localize this would be considered mistaking an incarnation/manifestation for the whole.

Looking back at those three omnis, do they sound familiar? They should. They are foundational to the God of Western monotheism. They are foremost in the catechism answers to the question, Who and what is God?

My childhood was pretty solitary, though that was fine with me as it afforded me more time to observe the flora and fauna of my world by day and read about them by night. And, the mantra, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence lay behind my eyes.

Years later, as a student of Anthropology, I learned about Ethology – the study of animal behavior, William James – known as the Father of American Psychology, Alan Watts – at one time the foremost interpreter of Eastern philosophy, B.F. Skinner – the Behaviorist who thoroughly trashed the overly convenient concept “instinct”, early and modern gatherer-scavenger-hunter populations, domestication, and the inherent mysticism in the art of early Man.

As I absorbed the writings, works, and discoveries in these fields and many more I was surprised only because I found myself so often thinking, But, of course. And I was concerned that so few were waking to the realities that have always been around us. For example, the common phrase, Dumb animals. At its best I realized it referred to the fact that no non-humans speak like us. At its worst it attacked the intellect of these non-humans. Now we have copious data on the songs and languages of whales, dolphins, wolves, a myriad of others, and even cows. Now we have data clearly showing us how plants communicate. Humans live in darkened sensory bottles with only narrow band width vision, hearing, smell, and taste. Our instruments have helped us uncork those bottles but it is our minds which must expand to accommodate what there is out there to experience. Many remain asleep.

As I read about early gatherer-scavenger-hunter groups and their modern descendants and closely examined their art work and symbolism I felt I understood the dramatic shift from their view of non-human animals to that of the populations who adopted pastoralism and agriculture. GSH groups, whether early or current, must understand the minds of the animals on which they prey. Although not commonly a prey species, the common crow provides an example any hunter will recognize. When approaching a murder of crows feeding in a field you will recognize at least one who is not on the ground feeding but rather on a nearby tree or some other vantage point. This crow is on sentry duty, providing the crows on the ground a warning when someone approaches. What the competent observer will note is that the sentry will sound the alarm much faster if the intruder has something in his hand. Show your open hands and the sentry will allow you much closer. I very much doubt many people are even aware of that. Yet, similar devices are found in other species as well. Hunters who intend to remain among the living must learn how their prey thinks.

Wait, what?!?! Animals think?!?! How unscientific!!!”

The artwork and the folklore of the GSH groups clearly and plainly tell us the respect, even reverence they felt for the non-human animals around them. Across the planet we see depictions of therianthropes, a pictorial blending of human and non-human figures apparently depicting shamans communing with the non-human animals important to the survival of the band. A famous example is “The Sorcerer” in the cave at Les Trois Freres in France. Less well known are the depictions of shamans of the Kalahari San Bushmen with eland antelopes. We know from modern accounts of the reverence the hunter extends to the soul of the animal he has killed. Contrast this with the attitudes of pastoralists and agriculturalists; very quickly the animals being herded, flocked, and eventually domesticated became insensitive commodities to be bred, traded, or slaughtered at the whim of the “owners”. I have personally witnessed utter brutality inflicted upon “dumb animals”. To this day I wonder about the psyche of the young children who raise domesticated animals, bond with them as treasured companions, and send them to slaughter. Using a logic I cannot fathom, they justify this as a means of food production.

I think the herding and domestication of animals laid the groundwork for the materialist separation of Man from all the rest of the natural world. This ethic is simply unknown among GSH populations. Interestingly, the Western monotheistic traditions enshrined this separation in their fundamental scriptures during this same period. But in so doing they formalized a fundamental contradiction: In creating and describing their God they invoked the three omnis; omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. This made it impossible to say God is in one act but not in another. While believers may piously point to some “godly” act they are not thereby able to dismiss other acts as “ungodly”. While believers may claim the possession of some “divine spark” (the original meaning of the word inspiration) they cannot deny it to any other form of existence, seen or unseen. The very act of such selective disposition is a glaring pronouncement of Materialism, based on the premise that qualities can be quantified and selectively distributed according to some presumably “divinely inspired” writ. Consciousness is one such quality.

In seeking alternatives to the Materialist dogma some have looked to Asian philosophies. Yet here, too, the tendencies of the Western “Cafeteria Catholic” (picking and choosing among the doctrinal pronouncements on offer) are evident. For example, the well known dichotomy of the Yin/Yang. The contrast of the interwoven Light and Dark is obvious. But what seems less obvious to the Western dabbler is the meaning inherent in the symbol: the interweaving of the elements is captured in the concept, Hsiang Sheng, “mutually arising”. I am what I am by virtue of everything I am not; I am where I am because everything else is where it is. I am, then, as a manifestation of Atman, an At Once expression of Allness – “past, present, and future, that which was, that which is, and that which is becoming”. In Alan Watts’ terms, Consciousness is the river, forever flowing away yet always coming back, and never the same. It does not reside in only a select species.

No, don’t expect to come upon me sitting in my garden talking to a rock. But please be accepting of my proclivity to see you in context.

Equality?

Equality?

By Marco M. Pardi

…all men are created equal.” The second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence.

All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.” John F. Kennedy. 6 June 1963.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Although I’ve had college classes in the subject, I make no pretense to be a political scientist. I am merely a participant-observer of the human condition. But surely every reader of this column can discern a distinct difference in the two statements rendered above. I have always viewed the first statement as well meaning but dreadfully naive. The second statement, although rather soft, provokes us to consider what is meant by “talent”. Does that mean capacity, as in the capacity for critical thinking? Or are we to sidetrack ourselves toward discussions of child prodigies such as Mozart and others like him?

In a time when we, the species Homo sapiens, face decisions which will decide whether we perish or prosper we must honestly and critically examine the predicate upon which we empower people to make those decisions. We are long past the ethic of, If you screw up a place, just move. We are in the corner and the paint is not just wet, it’s rising.

What are these decisions mentioned above? Let’s start with Climate Change, gaining speed and momentum like an oil tanker train and needing many miles of track before it can stop and then reverse. How about an essentially Fascist regime in the White House in an era when most Americans seem unable to identify Fascism even as it speaks lies to them through their ubiquitous sources of “news”? Or what about the regime developed Tax Code revisions which favor the Kleptocrats while scheming to pay for it through cuts to Social Security, MediCare, MediCaid, the Public School System, and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program? We could also discuss the current attacks on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Then there is the Man/Baby in the White House who seeks to deflect attention from his impeachment by assassinating a very highly placed figure in a foreign and hostile government. (Interestingly, the film 1917 is now playing. Perhaps a tiny few in the audience will remember that WWI was started with the assassination of one man – Archduke Ferdinand). Are these good for a start? Actually, I’m sure they are since the readers of this column demonstrate they think deeply and critically. Can we say that of every person who is entitled to vote?

As I’ve written of previously, I differentiate “smart” and “intelligent”. And again, I caution against the facile trap of conjuring a stereotypic image of a “dumb person” with a “smart person”. All physicians are smart; they have learned what was needed to graduate from medical school and pass the Boards. Not all physicians are intelligent. That is, not all of them are able to take the information they have learned and generate new knowledge. At the other end of the social scale I knew a retired train engineer (he drove them; he did not design them) who left school after third grade to do what he could to financially help his family. Despite his almost total hearing loss we spent many hours discussing a wide array of current events and the insights afforded us by history. How did we do that? In every spare moment he developed his reading skills and voraciously read all the serious literature he could get his very dirt stained hands on. Many of my physician friends would have been lost at “Hello”.

As an author I have been watching an accelerating trend since the 1970’s: serious readership has been markedly declining at an ever faster pace. Daily newspapers are going out of business almost as quickly as restaurants. Independent bookstores are disappearing. Even network television news programs are in dramatic decline, losing viewers to other media outlets which, in many cases, are nothing more than propaganda organs. Lets look at these trends.

The research organization STATISTA tracks reading trends in the United States. The collated findings of several national surveys indicate the following:

“ On average, Americans aged 20 to 34 spend a mere 0.11 hours reading daily, which amounts to less than seven minutes per day. Although the time spent reading increases in the older generations, the general trend is worrying – an overall average of only 0.28 hours spent reading per day. Despite these stunning numbers, there are also some positive things to note: As of 2018, 74 percent of adults stated that they have read at least one book in the past year, and additionally, Americans continue to spend around 110 U.S. dollars per year on reading.” 

Average annual expenditure on reading per customer in the U.S.: 108 USD. Share of U. S. adults who have read at least one book in the past year: 72%. Average Daily Time Spent Reading in the U.S.: 15.6 minutes.”

While the figures above give us little to no insight into the types of books read, perhaps the figures on magazines will do so:

Entertainment and TV: 7.11%

Science, Nature or Medicine: 3.61%

Political: 2.77%

Scholarly: 1.01%”

Is it any wonder a television “reality” show host, producer of insipid beauty contests, and purveyor of “conspiracy theories” was elected as President of the United States of America? I was not at all surprised.

One of the more puzzling recent developments is the push to lower the voting age to 16. Some point to Greta Thunberg, the Swede who, at the age of 15, captured the world’s attention with her brilliant indictment of Climate Deniers. Yet, many say she is an exception. I think the claim she is an exception is an American bias. During the 22 years I taught at various universities and colleges I consistently found that students whose K-12 education was European, British, or Scandinavian based were far better able to understand and discuss the nuances and ramifications of world events, especially world politics. Perhaps American schools seek to produce smart students, able to remember and repeat what they have been taught while other systems seek to produce intelligent students able to understand, extrapolate, and build on what they have learned.

Another caveat against the granting of the vote to 16 year old people is the information about the development of the brain itself. But I cannot accept this applies only to Americans. Note the “starting at 16 or 17” in the following:

The front part of the brain, responsible for functions such as complex reasoning, problem-solving, thinking ahead, prioritizing, long-term planning, self evaluation and regulation of emotion, begins to develop in early adolescence with a final developmental push starting at age 16 or 17. It is not that these tasks cannot be done before young adulthood, but rather that it takes more effort and requires practice.” K. Teipel of the State Adolescent Health Resource Center, Konopka Institute, University of Minnesota.

Should I assume, then, that American adolescent brains are “wired” differently? I think not. Rather, I will conclude that the American culture is wired differently. I would like to know if, and to what extent, Teipel’s study sample included subjects from various cultures and educational systems. Unfortunately, I do not have that information but I will venture to suggest that his results were at least in part culturally influenced.

My point here is that until the American culture makes a fundamental shift from trying to produce smart to trying to produce intelligent we will see a rapidly worsening gap between those who have the answers appropriate to yesterday and those who have the competence to negotiate tomorrow. As tomorrow advances upon us with ever increasing speed our “equal opportunity to develop our talents” is rapidly diminishing. We must become sober and serious in the granting of power to affect the course of our journey into the future that our profligate past has brought us.

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